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  • Writer's pictureJoe Federbush, EVOLIO

No Trade Show? No Problem. Your F2F Alternative. Hint: It’s being used by teachers

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the globe, causing concern for our health, our loved ones, and disrupting our daily lives.  And it goes without saying that it’s impacting professionals’ lives as well with trade shows, conferences, and tournaments (the Olympic Games!) being canceled or postponed.  Yet, a strong interactive and engaging brand presence is still critical for the success of companies to stay relevant and continue to engage even during this crisis.

According to CEIR, there are about 2,500 B2B events held between March 1 and May 15 each year. CEIR believes that about 50% to 80% of those events have already canceled or will likely cancel in the coming weeks and estimates that this will result in a loss of 41 to 65 million net square feet (NSF) and $2.3 billion to $3.6 billion in show organizer revenue. Combined with direct spending by exhibitors and attendees, the total loss to the economy would be $14 billion to $22 billion. With that said, how do we really attempt to try and maintain a sense of “business as usual”?

The tradeshow and event marketing industry has dealt with large scale disruptions before, like the recent Great Recession during 2008-2009, and recovered stronger and better.  Throughout downturns, we’ve seen spikes in emails and news pertaining to F2F alternatives. Fortunately, the difference between 2009 and today is there's improved and more intuitive platforms that can help companies digitally promote their brand, products and services, and create a sense of community while adhering to social and physical distancing and staying safe.

With the current environment, we are all hearing a lot of talk about live events, large and small, going virtual (i.e., HIMSS20, Cisco Live APJC).  Many organizers have moved their tradeshows and events online to attract their audiences digitally, by live-streaming using the ‘one-to-many' approach for keynotes, sessions, panels, and press events. While this works well for the educational and thought leadership aspects of an event, it can be difficult to navigate for exhibitors, especially for exhibitors that want to interact live with customers and prospects and have them interact back. 

How can exhibitors interact and engage, in real-time?  Consider using interactive, social, face to face, live platforms like Google Hangouts, Zoom and Houseparty. While these platforms cannot fully replace true in-person engagements, they are great alternatives, allowing a ‘one-to-one' or ‘one-to-few’ live interaction so people can still showcase their company’s products and solutions, deliver key messages, feed sales pipeline, and most importantly “humanize” the brand experience – the main point and greatest advantage of events and F2F marketing. With bidirectional live video feeds, exhibitors can see and hear their guests, including their non-verbal communications, which in many cases speak louder than words.

Interactive platforms like Google Hangouts and Zoom have become temporary classrooms and workout studios while schools and gyms across the country have closed.  These types of platforms are perfect for engaging live with people and can be adapted to meet your need for exhibit space, even while in your living room or home office.  With the right experts (booth staff), nearly any product or service can be successfully demonstrated and discussed.

Just like you’d carefully plan and promote your physical booth presence, the same principles apply for your interactive virtual booth presence:

  • Promotion and scheduling meetings – Invite highly targeted guests, customers, and prospects, just like you’d promote your physical booth presence prior to and during a show. Use the same approach for your virtual experience: email, social media like LinkedIn including live feed announcements, phone, direct mail, and event pre-scheduled meetings using tools like Jifflenow. Design invitations and scripts that make people feel valued, special and exclusive.

  • Identify the best demo experts and staff, and the right products and/or services – Just like you would go through a vetting process and select your best people to staff your booth, ensure you thoughtfully choose the right people, products and services to represent your brand and align with the online audience. 

  • Rehearse – Make sure that the platform you’ve selected is suited for your demo and delivers great video quality.  Check lighting. Check voice quality. Practice with your colleagues to test interactive features. Create a staff schedule allowing sales, marketing, product experts, and execs to be present during “exhibit” hours. Be prepared for and embrace the idiosyncrasies that may happen like your kids running around and/or screaming, a pet onscreen debut, a firetruck siren, or even wonky Wi-Fi.

  • Defined exhibit hours, and staff and demo schedules – Allow for multiple open exhibit times throughout the day with various staff and experts.  You can designate hours that are dedicated to customers versus prospects which will inform how you deliver your presentations. Allow enough time for effective demonstrations along with Q&A.  Leave your livestream open for an additional 20-30 mins after the demos and conversations end to be available to engage with any new visitors who join late.  Or, even consider having your livestream open and available throughout the entire day (just like typical exhibit hours) over the course of a few days.

  • Messaging and demos – Pair the right messaging with the right demos and communicate those messages naturally, clearly, and effectively to keep your audience engaged.  You will want at least one colleague with you during the demo to help ask and answer questions, monitor the chat and to keep track of visitors for quick follow-ups.  

Different platforms offer different plans and can support groups of various sizes so be sure to determine which is best for you. Factors to keep in mind are price, maximum number of participants, meeting duration, and features like scheduling, guest sign-up and tracking, HD video, dial-in options, recording capabilities, whiteboarding, and other interactive elements. 

Remember, the main reasons to attend trade shows are to see what’s new, to stay current on industry trends, and to network.  On the flip side, for exhibitors, the greatest benefit is lead generation, launching new products/services, introducing your brand to new prospects creating net new sales opportunities, and to enhance relationships with existing customers. This interactive and virtual approach can work for big established companies, as well as small, new, or emerging ones.  Continuing to engage with your customers and prospects is important for your brand and this alternative provides the opportunity to build relationships and connect on a personal level, which is why we go to shows in the first place.

Be agile. Go with the flow. Be enthusiastic. This suggested digital approach does not fully replace the in-person experience at live trade shows and events and may not work for all brands.  And, bottom line, nothing can really replace true human interaction. But, in these unique and tumultuous times with tradeshows and events canceling and postponed, it provides a solid Plan B.  

Is this approach something your company can adopt?  How would you go about it?  

Joe Federbush, President, EVOLIO Marketing

For over 20 years, Joe Federbush's primary current responsibilities are to market, consult on, and design strategic research and measurement programs that help companies, show organizers/associations, and event producers measure their return on investment (ROI) and experience (ROX) for their trade show and event programs in a highly cost-effective way.

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